It was more than two decades ago, and Penny Hildreth was already feeling overwhelmed by life when she learned that she had type 1 diabetes. She was pregnant with her second child and worried about the baby’s safety after a car accident that had left Hildreth with a broken collarbone, a broken rib, and a punctured spleen. It was the spleen injury that ultimately led to her diagnosis of diabetes, but she was more concerned about the baby, a little girl who was born healthy despite the automobile accident. “I always say that she’s my miracle,” says the 46-year-old Portland resident.
Given her circumstances, diabetes wasn’t at the top of the list of concerns for Hildreth, who virtually ignored the diagnosis for the first 10 years. “I refused to come to terms that I had diabetes,” she says. “I ate wrong and I didn’t exercise.” Instead, the stressed mom of two turned to alcohol and drugs, putting her diabetes on the back burner.
But when Hildreth decided to enter a recovery program in 1997, her diabetes revealed itself after doing unnoticed damage for 15 years. “I started feeling the effects of my diabetes then,” she says. “And I knew I had to start taking control of my life.” Even as she began a 12-step program and found a sponsor, she was experiencing the added stress of vision problems and kidney issues, as well as foot pain that alternated between painful tingling and lack of sensation. “It didn’t keep me from doing what I needed to do,” she says of the burning and tingling brought on by diabetic neuropathy. “But I noticed it when I sat down.” Eventually, she had no feeling at all in her feet. When she visited a podiatrist, she was surprised when he pulled a piece of glass from her foot the size of an infant’s fingernail. She had not felt a thing.
Soon after, Hildreth started taking Metanx, a food supplement infused with B complex vitamins that almost immediately made a difference in how she felt. “I noticed that my burning had stopped,” she says. “It’s one of the biggest miracles, to have feeling back in my feet.”
Being in recovery forced Hildreth to look at her diabetes differently, and now, the grandmother of four puts herself and her health on the front burner. “I’m still young, and I have a lot to live for,” she says. “I did not want this disease to get the better of me. I had to stop fighting it so that it wouldn’t destroy me.”
With the support of her husband, Michael, her son, Doug, and her daughter, Michelle, Hildreth is able to make healthy choices and keep her stress levels down to ensure that her blood sugar levels stay in check. “Having diabetes is a 24-hour-a-day challenge, but, like my recovery, I take it one day at a time,” she says. “Every day I wake up and I get a choice: Am I going to do what’s right or do what’s wrong? And when I do make those good choices, I’m on top of the world and I feel good.”
Hildreth visits a podiatrist every six weeks to treat a foot ulcer on her left foot, so these days she rarely forgets that she has diabetes. But forgetting isn’t as important to her as it once was. “I used to look at my diabetes as a negative impact on my life,” she says. “Now, I view it as a positive. It forces me to take care of myself more than the average person. It forces me to make the right choices.”